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UN health agency recommends flu vaccine composition for southern hemisphere

UN health agency recommends flu vaccine composition for southern hemisphere

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today made public its recommended composition for next year's flu vaccine in the southern hemisphere.

The recommendation was communicated to vaccine manufacturers following agreement by international experts this week at a WHO meeting in Cannes, France, the agency said in a statement. The decision was made possible by the coordinated work of more than 110 influenza laboratories and 4 WHO Collaborating Centres.

According to WHO, about 200 million influenza vaccine doses are given globally every year, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and reducing illness in the most vulnerable - the elderly and people with underlying chronic disease. This year, the experts recommended the southern hemisphere vaccine contain an A/Moscow/10/99(H3N2)-like virus, an A/New Caledonia/20/99(H1N1)-like virus and a B/Sichuan/379/99-like virus.

The vaccine is intended for use from May to October 2002, the flu season in the southern hemisphere. The timing of the WHO recommendation is critical to allow sufficient time for companies to produce a novel vaccine before the next influenza season starts.

Meanwhile in the northern hemisphere, where the flu infects an estimated 100 million people every year, many countries have already begun advertising for vaccination campaigns focusing on high risk groups. For instance, the United Kingdom aims at 65 per cent coverage in such groups, while the province of Ontario in Canada has gone one step further: aiming at universal coverage, it will give free vaccine to all its citizens who wish to be protected against influenza.

WHO strongly recommends flu vaccination, which it calls "the most important measure" against the disease.

In another development, WHO said the epidemic of Yellow Fever in Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, Abidjan, was continuing but had not started to accelerate. On 5 September, the agency had issued an urgent appeal for $2.9 million to cover the cost of a vaccination campaign in response to the epidemic. The agency also delivered vaccines to the city from an international stockpile.